“I was a happy Taoist for many years. Burned out on schooling I chose to live a simple life, contented at gardening or ditch-digging for a living, doing everything from installing electrical fixtures to waiting tables. But eventually I signed up for a life in the Coast Guard, studying electronics and sonar and living at sea, until I yearned again for an education and thus embarked on a long career as a student of science and ancient history. During all this, in cultivating the mental life that Taoism taught, I had powerful mystical visions, which only confirmed further that I was on the right track. These ranged from the simple to the fantastic. The simplest and most common was that clarity of an almost drug-like wonder, perceiving everything striking the senses as one, unified whole. It is hard to describe this. Normally, your attention is focussed, on something you are looking at or listening to, or in a semi-dream-state of reverie, but with a meditative sense of attention this focus and dreaminess vanishes and you are immersed in a total, holistic sense of the real. It is both magnificent and calming. It humbles you, and brings you to the realization of how beautiful simply living is, and how trivial all your worries and difficulties are. Profound insights about the world would strike me whenever in such a state, leading far more readily and powerfully to an understaning of myself and the world than studying or reasoning ever did.
The most fantastic experience I had was like that times ten. It happened at sea, well past midnight on the flight deck of a cutter, in international waters two hundred miles from the nearest land. I had not slept for over 36 hours, thanks to a common misfortune of overlapping duty schedules and emergency rescue operations. For hours we had been practicing helicopter landing and refuelling drills and at long last the chopper was away and everything was calm. The ship was rocking slowly in a gentle, dark sea, and I was alone beneath the starriest of skies that most people have never seen. I fell so deeply into the clear, total immersion in the real that I left my body and my soul expanded to the size of the universe, so that I could at one thought perceive, almost ‘feel’, everything that existed in perfect and total clarity. It was like undergoing a Vulcan Mind Meld with God. Naturally, words cannot do justice to something like this. It cannot really be described, only experienced, or hinted at. What did I see? A beautiful, vast, harmonious and wonderful universe all at peace with the Tao. There was plenty of life scattered like tiny seeds everywhere, but no supernatural beings, no gods or demons or souls floating about, no heaven or hell. Just a perfect, complete universe, with no need for anything more. The experience was absolutely real to me. There was nothing about it that would suggest it was a dream or a mere flight of imagination. And it was magnificent.
But I had never stopped my private readings in the sciences, and it did not take long for me to realize that everything I had experienced through Taoism had a natural explanation. At the same time, the more I studied my religious text the more I came to disagree with certain parts of it. Since the One True Religion could not be faulty even in part, this brought me to realize that Taoism was not sacred or divine, but just an outpouring of very admirable and ingenious, but ultimately fallible human wisdom.”